Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Review: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

One of the funniest and culturally relevant books of the year, Paul Beatty's The Sellout examines the discussion of race and points out the inconsistencies in many beliefs. This satirical novel spares no one shining a harsh and hilarious light on difficult topics like police violence and cultural appropriation. I have followed the Man Booker Prize winners these last two years because it has been a source of unique voices in literature and Paul Beatty fits right in with the other one I read. I would recommend this book to those who don't have a set view of ideology and can take a joke at their expense. 

The Sellout follows the story of Bonbon as he is known in his neighborhood in rural south Los Angeles as he tries to segregate his small town of Dickens in order to get it back on the map as it has been erased by the city in an act of shameful neglect. The story begins with the narrator smoking marijuana in the Supreme Court as he is tried for violating multiple Bills of Rights. The novel then flashes back to his plan to segregate the town and his reasons for doing so.

One of the most difficult parts of reading this book were the large amount of pop culture jokes and that I can't use the word plethora to describe that amount. Beatty examines the language we use and our cultural references. There are many references to the Little Rascals that my only cultural touchstone for was a distant remake maybe from the early nineties but from the way Beatty shreds the television show for its racial insensitivity, my time was better spent reading this book.

I don't find myself laughing aloud at books but The Sellout has lines that both sting and make me chuckle at the same time. I am no expert at satire but found Beatty's work easier to read than other acclaimed artists that also use the genre to comment on the difficult issues of buried deep in our culture. Humor is a great way to cut through the speech that prevents further discussion like the character Foy Cheshire who refers to the narrator as a sellout yet has his own dark secrets he would prefer to keep hidden.

Finally, another great part about this book is that it encourages further examination of the reader. As I read the novel, I couldn't help but think of my own privilege in this country and my own appropriation of culture without knowledge of historical context. I still have a long way to go and strive to think about these issues more often, but it is nice to sit back and laugh when the reality is so tragic. The United States is moving into an interesting year ahead and readers will need more voices like Beatty's. 

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